If it isn’t already, time will be well and truly up on the Parramatta season if they can’t find a way to win this Monday night.
The Eels are already way down the list in 14th on the NRL ladder, five competition points adrift of eighth place but with an awful differential (-129) to go with it.
They must buck the trend and upset the fourth-placed Storm but if there is a time to make it happen perhaps this weekend is it – the Storm have a handful of stars and their coach in Origin camp, making it a disrupted preparation.
Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Dallas Johnson, Greg Inglis and Brett White must firstly get through Wednesday night to even take their place in the side and coach Craig Bellamy will also need to change his focus quickly back to club footy after the final interstate clash.
The Eels will only supply Jarryd Hayne to Origin but they will be just as desperate for him to join the squad for this must-win encounter.
Hayne’s return sees Luke Burt shift back to wing, while Krisnan Inu moves from wing to centre with youngster Johnathan Wright missing out.
For the Storm, assuming the Origin boys back up, the only changes will be James Maloney coming onto the bench for the suspended Ryan Hinchcliffe, with Matt Cross added to an extended bench.
Melbourne ground out a late win over Newcastle before the bye so they enter with a little bit of form, while the Eels lost against the Titans last Monday night, their second loss on the trot.
Watch out Eels: Brett Finch returns to possibly haunt you this weekend, busted lung and all.
After being released by the Eels earlier this year, Finch has found a new home in Melbourne, at least for now, and he has been determined to make every post a winner. Considering the ladder positions of both teams it would appear the playmaker is doing better out of the deal at this stage but he’ll still want to put an exclamation point on the scenario with a dominant performance.
Finch hasn’t been awesome in Melbourne’s colours but he has taken pressure off Cooper Cronk and he has contributed four try assists, four line-break assists, two line breaks and a try to the team in his time at the club.
You can imagine he may try to take a more dominant role for this game, even though a partially collapsed lung is a tough injury to come back from in quick time.
Watch out Storm: The Eels are the most prolific team in the NRL when it comes to offloads while the Storm are ranked 15th. Parramatta will be the first to admit they need to be a little more selective with their second-phase play but the fact they have the ability to offload in traffic gives them a good chance to trouble the tough Melbourne defence.
They are popping out close to 16 offloads a game to be by far the competition’s best, while the Storm only provide just over eight offloads each match. The Melbourne defenders have to be careful to lock up the football and not give up on the tackle before it is complete.
Nathan Hindmarsh (34 offloads), Nathan Cayless (25 offloads) and Krisnan Inu (23 offloads) are the main strike weapons.
Where it will be won: The only way Melbourne are likely to lose this game is if they are switched off mentally – which did happen a few weeks ago in Canberra. So the key to this game is mental application.
For the Storm this means there is no room for complacency. Sure, they are comfortably in the top four for now and the Eels have been pretty miserable this year, but the disjointed preparation means it will be easy to take a few shortcuts – and shortcuts lead to losses.
The Parramatta side isn’t by any means hopeless. They had chances to be the first side to beat the Titans on the Gold Coast this year last Monday night but a few poor decisions in attack and defence and some poor goal-kicking hurt them.
For them, the mental application is all about belief. They need to believe they can beat this mob and they need to believe in the game plan they are given.
And they need to apply it without wavering, even if a few things go against them early. If they can stick solid, defend as a unit and then create a few chances they might sniff an upset.
The history: Played 20; Eels 8, Storm 12. The Storm have won six of the past eight against the Eels although the last match-up between the two teams went Parramatta’s way. The Storm hold a slender advantage in matches on the Eels’ home turf, winning five of the nine matches. The past seven games have been reasonably close, with the average winning margin being just over eight points.
Conclusion: It is tough to find a reason to pick the Eels here, unless of course all of the Storm’s Origin players are bashed up good in the final match of the series. They are a clinical team who can win even when outplayed across most aspects of the game (see their last match against Newcastle for proof) and the Eels just lack the killer instinct to compete in the tough matches. If the Storm line up as per, or close to, the Big League program, you’d be mad not to back them.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.